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Agencies Announce New Immigration Guidance to Attract International STEM Talent

The Departments of State and Homeland Security will pursue new initiatives to attract and retain STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) talent in the United States, according to a White House fact sheet.

The announcements include the following new guidance:

  • Expansion of STEM Optional Practical Training – 22 new fields of study will now be included. The program allows F-1 and J-1 students earning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in certain STEM fields to remain in the United States to complete OPT after earning their degrees. This period is also extended from 18 to 36 months.

  • Clarification of O-1A “extraordinary ability” visa requirements – Guidance is updated as to what constitutes “extraordinary ability” nonimmigrant status and what evidence may satisfy the O-1A evidentiary criteria. This is intended to increase the number of STEM workers in the O-1 category, thus potentially freeing up the H-1B line and creating more space for other workers that American companies need on an annual basis.

  • National Interest Waiver (NIW) Petitions – Provides additional clarification for the NIW permanent residency category to include the types of persuasive evidence that STEM graduates and entrepreneurs can provide. Currently, an employer seeking to hire a noncitizen must obtain a permanent labor certification that proves there are no qualified U.S. workers for the position they are seeking and that their employment will not adversely affect similarly employed U.S. workers. The noncitizen may, however, seek a waiver of a job offer, and of the labor certification, if it is in the interest of the United States. This additional guidance could help expedite the waiver process to get critical talent into the U.S. workforce.

For more information regarding these updated policies, see the Federal Register.

Outlook: To support economic growth in a competitive labor market, the Biden administration has made the U.S.’s ability to attract and retain STEM talent a priority. As the Association previously reported, absent legislative immigration efforts, we anticipate executive/regulatory action in this space. Looking ahead, interested parties can inform the STEM OPT list further by nominating fields of study to be added or removed (more details in the Federal Register notice). In the meantime, employers seeking to recruit international talent in the STEM fields should consider reevaluating options, given these regulatory and policy revisions.

Published on: January 28, 2022

Authors: Chatrane Birbal

Topics: Immigration, Jobs, Skills and Training

Chatrane Birbal

Vice President, Government Relations, HR Policy Association

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Contact Chatrane Birbal LinkedIn

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